Eight Skilled Gentlemen
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The sequel to Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone, this fantasy tale is the equivalent of Holmes and Watson in an ancient China that never was. Master Li and Number Ten Ox investigate a strange case of murder in a book that is equal parts Chinese folklore, sly parody, adventure, horror and fun.
his social rank was precisely at the bottom. He had absolutely no right to set foot upon aristocratic premises like Hortensia Island — even less right than I would have if I hadn't been with Master Li — but on the other hand he wasn't being pressed to explain his presence. He decided to do so voluntarily. "I come here often just before the seasonal sacrifices. The purpose is to steal something," he said matter-of-factly. "I've offered to buy the stuff time and time again but I always get
to." Then he changed the subject. She hadn't gone far, however. Later when we were preparing to go to sleep we heard wailing and chanting from above us on a hilltop, and then a high clear voice exclaimed, "Hik!" Master Li yawned and muttered, "The next sound you'll hear is 'Phat.' " "Sir?" I said. "Phat!" rang sharply from the hilltop. "It's Tibetan. Didn't you notice the boy's Tibetan features? Somebody's died and they've asked Yu Lan to guide the soul safely into the hereafter,"
noses with streaks of sulphur as a precaution against poisonous bites, but their eyes were worried and their faces were drawn as they watched heat waves again lift from the streets. The temples were crowded with grandparents praying to Kuan-yin, Goddess of Mercy. Tempers were rubbed raw. A bloody battle erupted at the Dynastic Gate when a herd of sheep with red-painted tails, meaning they were being led to sacrifice at the Altar of Heaven, somehow got entangled with camels on their way to the
obligingly copied a list of company officers beneath the corporate name Master Li had specified: Sky-flame Death Birds Ghost Boat Rain Race Tea Company, Ltd. "This is the bunch?" I asked admiringly. "Exactly. Every bastard involved, including Li the Cat and two other eunuchs of ministerial rank," Master Li said. "Now, if only . . ." He let the sentence die a natural death. He meant "If only the Celestial Master is sane and in one piece and able to help," and worry returned, and he was
our monastery and by my atheistic Uncle Nung, and it was commonly said that a list of his good deeds would cover four of the five sacred mountains, and here I was standing right in front of him. Somehow I managed a jerky bow without falling on my face. "Kao, you're just the man we need, and I'm glad somebody had the brains to think of it," the Celestial Master said. "It was one of the weirdest things I've seen in my life, which means it might have been designed for you." The Celestial